Condition of bodies after the descent

Feb 21, 2005
Please do not think me sick or weird for asking this, but in what kind of condition would the human body be once it hit the ocean floor? We always here the pressure down there is "bone crushing" and I was wondering if that was literal. There's no real way to ask this nicely...I've tried to think of every way I can.

Simply put, if I went down that deep in a submersible and came across a recently deceased corpse that had sunk to that depth, what would or wouldn't I see?

I mean no disrespect to the Titanic's victims or any other ship wreck victims by asking this question...I'm genuinely curious.

Bob Godfrey

Nov 22, 2002
The body would not be flattened, any more than those of the fish which live down there. Soft tissues are made up mainly of water which is compressible only to a very limited degree, and bone would not be affected. Only those areas which contain air spaces which could not fill with water as the body descended would show much sign of pressure damage - notably the chest cavity. Bodies have been recovered from great depths and apart from the obvious rupturing of the lungs, ears etc they are basically intact. We've all seen those drinking cups brought back from the depths and compressed by pressure, but that happens because they are made of a plastic foam material which contains mainly air.
Aug 2, 2008
As wierd as these questions might be, the fact is that most of us have some degree of morbid curiousity.
There are conditions which contribute to the preservation of the dead, such as water temerature. However, the creatures of the sea, from the birds who see a body floating to the fish and the deep sea life that feed on anything from flesh to wood would, in time, devour the bodies.
Sep 7, 2002
It's been a while since I've seen "Raise the Titanic." But as I recall one of the perps was found in an airtight vault perfectly preserved. Would that be possible at that depth? If this is discussed in the "RTT" thread just direct me as to where.


Russell Smith

Jul 23, 2008
Hi Leen.

No that's just Hollywood. Even in an "airtight" vault there is going to be some air, which would lead to eventual decay.

Mike Poirier

Dec 12, 1999
I remember reading how Virginia Woolf attended the Titanic hearings and was of the impression that the ship and the bodies had been completely flattened at that depth. She said Stead was flat like a pancake and his eyes like copper coins.
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May 27, 2007
Hi Mike,

I could see her saying something like that all too easily. Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? Me!
May 27, 2007

>>She said Stead was flat like a pancake and his eyes like copper coins.<<

Did she smile when she said that?

Like a hyena. I know Virginia Woolf. Her surname was an apt description of her character at times.
Jun 12, 2004
Stead, it's been suggested, was in the 1st class smoking room when it was flooded/destroyed (and it's been inferred that so too was Andrews, but I won't venture to say that that was actually the case), so if his remains really appeared as such, chances are just as possible that this condition came about at the surface and not the sinking itself. I know I wouldn't have wanted to be that particular room at that point in time.

Perhaps Ms Wolff was attempting to employ her unique brand of humor or metaphorically illustrate, in her own colorful way, the horror of the tragedy?

As for the airtight room . . . The pressure of the water would likely have caused the space to implode upon descent, just as it did the other areas.

Interesting how Hollywood gets its ideas and hopes or thinks those ideas can be bought off to a [supposedly] intelligent public. It's now called 'nuking the fridge,' and it can be taken only so far before we have had enough of it.

But, ah, as long as the money is there, anything goes!
May 3, 2005
To Matthew Newman:
(Bob Godfrey) quote >>Soft tissues are made up mainly of water which is compressible only to a very limited degree, and bone would not be affected..<<

I have heard that the human body is composed of a large percentage of water.

Aly Jones

Nov 22, 2008
Body is full of water,does not matter. If you're dead you are going to decompose. The question is,Will the watery grave make the body decompose faster? I think so.

Inger Sheil

Feb 9, 1999
I don't think the question is decomposition, Alyson - the question is the affect that pressure would have on the bodies in the immediate aftermath of the sinking, which is where the water content of the body and questions of compressiblity comes in.

The cold of the water at that depth would certainly slow the progress of decay (in some freshwater lakes, it even leads to a process call "saponification", turning the body into a so-called "soap mummy" that might last nearly intact for years...I don't know of any marine examples of this occuring, though). In shallower depths, the gasses caused by decomposition usually cause a body to rise after a period. It is notoriously difficult to keep a body weighted down - many attempts to conceal a murder victim by tying them to a heavy object and dropping them in a body of water fail when decomposition gasses cause the body to rise.

I don't know - and would be curious to find out - if such gas is also a byproduct of the marine bacteria causing decomposition at that depth. And if such gas is produced, would water pressure cause it to be immediately expelled from the corpse, prohibiting the bloating we associate decomposition with on land and in shallower depths?

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